Date: 2-9-99

 Journal Entry No.19

Although the weather has deteriorated we are making fine progress. The main structure with the central cist continues to surprise us. Excavation in the interior has revealed that the cist was cut through an earlier floor level. Whats more is that magnetic susceptibility (measures degrees of burnt soil) testing around the cist has produced high readings suggesting the presence of a hearth in close proximity. One interpretation which is particularly exciting is that this building was originally some form of dwelling containg a central hearth which was subsequently removed and replaced by a cist. The idea of a central hearth being replaced by a cist is fascinating when the structure of contemporary Early bronze Age barrows in Orkney are recalled. Here a stone outer wall surrounds and provides a revetment for the barrow and in the centre is the burial cist. When these sites are exposed they strongly resemble the layout of the house but with the hearth replaced by the cist. The importance of the hearth for the maintenance of life in northern locations such as Orkney provides a strong symbolic medium, for instance the hearth often symbolizes the well being of the family. Equally, it was always considered extremely bad luck to let the fire go out, and as Tom Muir of Tankerness House Museum assures me it was equally unlucky to share fire (to use fire from one hearth to light another). The fire was also extinguished on the death of a family member. The point here is that the hearth possibly provided a strong metaphor for life and death and it may be no coincidence that burial cists in the centre of the circular barrow strongly resemble hearths in houses. Also of great interest, is the discovery of a bowl shaped feature formed of clay moulded into the floor of the structure a little to the east of the cist that replaces the hearth. This is currently under very careful and detailed excavation in order that any clues to its purpose and relationship with other internal feature are revealed. Hopefully in the next few days much more will be known about this unusual feature. In the second largest trench at Stonehall, Sian has finally discovered a substantial house. Although the outer walling has largely been removed the inner furniture such as the hearth and stone bounded recesses are well preserved. Everyone is very pleased with this discovery because it shows that a number of houses once surrounded the building with the central cist.

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